I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for weeks and now I’m finally getting around to typing my thoughts out to share. And I’ll warn you — this could be long! So here goes!
Six months ago, I made a pretty radical change. It was a decision I never thought I would make — and quite honestly, I’m still amazed it “clicked” with me. It’s changed my life and I love it. I “went Paleo.”
Yep. I didn’t just give up gluten, I gave up grains, processed sugars, and most dairy (so technically I’m more “primal” than Paleo since I do allow myself to have some raw, full-fat dairy in limited amounts on occasion). And guess what — after six months of living this lifestyle, I don’t regret it! In fact, I’m totally on board and eager to learn more about nutrition and how the things we eat and the things in our environment impact our health.
I feel great, have more energy, my face is clear for the first time since pre-puberty and I’ve lost weight and inches (even though that wasn’t my intent in starting this). I was stunned recently to realize that I’ve dropped not one, but two sizes, generally speaking, since I started my Paleo journey. (I couldn’t resist a little exclamation of “Yes!” complete with fist in the air and a quick little dance in the dressing room when I put on that pair of jeans and they fit!) I haven’t worn that size since I was about 12 years old!
So how did I go from eating what most Americans would consider a relatively healthy diet to the “extreme” of Paleo? It was both a gradual and a sudden process.
I grew up in a health-conscious home and have always been what most people would consider relatively healthy. My mom always has set a great example on following good health practices. She stays on top of her personal health, feeds her family well and encourages us all to be active and live healthfully. I’ve also always enjoyed learning about nutrition and good health practices. So for the most part, I’ve grown up knowing how to eat well, but I haven’t always allowed that head knowledge to reach my heart and impact what I put in my mouth.
A couple of years ago, some of it started sinking in more. I started eating more organic foods, especially dairy and fruits and veggies without a discarded protective covering. Not all the time, but when I could. About a year ago, I completely gave up soft drinks. I didn’t drink them a lot, but I would have one from time to time. I knew drinking them was basically like pouring poison into my body, and one day I finally decided that I didn’t want to do that any more. So I stopped.
I knew several people during that time frame who started eating gluten-free out of necessity and I tried some gluten-free recipes so I would be able to prepare food for them, but living that lifestyle voluntarily never crossed my mind. I didn’t appear to have any issues with gluten, so I wasn’t about to give it up. In fact, I thought to myself (and I believe even said aloud a time or two) that I felt sorry for people who had to live that way because it must really stink.
Fast forward to earlier this year and my first introduction to Paleo. One of my co-workers started eating Paleo and mentioned it occasionally. I thought to myself, “Have fun with that! There’s no way I could do that.” And I didn’t really think about it any more.
Then in June, my friend Wendy hosted a gluten-free nutrition and cooking class for the women at my church. I decided to go. Again, I was thinking that this would be a great opportunity to learn how to cook gluten-free for Wendy’s family and the others I know who are gluten intolerant. Little did I know what was about to happen!
I firmly believe that God spoke to me through that nutrition class and prompted me to begin this lifestyle. As I sat there and listened to Wendy gracefully share the health knowledge she’s accumulated over the past couple of years in her battle with gluten intolerance and other health issues, particularly how gluten and our gut health impact our entire bodies, I slowly began to feel my mindset on health shifting.
In March, I started battling chronic insomnia. I tried everything I knew to do, then finally got some relief through seeing a sleep specialist and getting a prescription for a mild sleep aid I take on an as needed basis. Through lots of prayer, watching my health and stress levels and focusing on my “sleep hygiene” (daily end-of-the-day winding down rituals), I had seen some improvement. But that’s not enough for me. I want it to go away.
So as I listened to Wendy talk about how going gluten-free and mostly Paleo had changed many aspects of her health and life, I thought, “Maybe I need to try this and see if it helps.” I originally intended to try going gluten-free, not Paleo, to see if it would help my insomnia. But the more I thought about it, and realized that some health changes might also help a more personal health issue I have as well, I couldn’t fully shake the thought that maybe I needed to go all the way, just for 30 days, and see if I could tell a difference. By the end of the day, that’s what I’d made up my mind to do.
I spent a little more than a week researching Paleo eating and looking up recipes and decided that to get the full effect, I wanted to treat my 30-day challenge as a detox and go totally sugar-free except for fruit (so no Paleo treats with honey, maple syrup or other natural sweeteners).
I started my 30-day challenge on Monday, June 18 with the hope of making it a lifestyle change, but still keeping the possibility of dropping back to just eating gluten-free if I didn’t notice a difference. It was tough at first. I had to figure out new meals and snacks to eat and get used to the amount of food prep and planning involved with eating fresh, real foods all the time. Plus, the initial “detox” process the body goes through when it suddenly loses the grains and processed sugars it’s addicted to doesn’t exactly make one feel peachy. But it does pass! The cravings took a little longer to kick. For the first few weeks, I dreamed of eating a brownie. Or a nice panini. But the good news is — the cravings for junk eventually go away, too!
I made it through the 30 days and decided to keep at it. My sleep didn’t improve right away, but I’d experienced enough of a health boost to convince me to continue. The detox process and the good stress (but still stress, nonetheless) of such a dramatic change actually aggravated my sleep issues some. But after I made it through the 30 days, things started to improve.
I even managed to stay “mostly” Paleo while on vacation with my family in early August. I did allow myself to have some meals and snacks that were only gluten-free and I enjoyed a small slice of my cousin’s wedding cake, but I tried to stay pretty close to Paleo. I was pleased with how well I did, but I could still tell a difference in how I felt after several days of “cheating” a little bit. I was amazed when I ate an entire white potato and felt like crap! It bothered my body more than eating the cake! I came back ready to hit the Paleo trail again.
In retrospect, I’m glad I got off the bandwagon a little bit, because it convinced me that I need to keep doing what I’m doing and buy into this lifestyle change 100 percent. I even decided to skip the idea of “the occasional gluten splurge.” There are tons of Paleo treats and alternatives available and I honestly would rather eat those when I want to indulge! In fact, I’ve made it through the entire holiday season that way!
When we returned from vacation, my whole family was blessed to be able to start receiving care at Exodus Chiropractic. The office is great! The doctors are Christians and their approach to care and healing is to look at the whole body, not just isolated issues. A key part of that approach is nutrition. I was excited to realize that the suggested eating lifestyle there is pretty much a Paleo one! So now not only would I be eating that way, but most of my family would, too.
(If you’re curious about Exodus Chiropractic, check out the link to their website! If receiving adjustments and other medical care isn’t what you’re looking for or isn’t something you can do at this time, they also hold worship services and some nutrition classes, like the Shop with a Doc monthly gatherings, that are free and open to anyone!)
It’s been great to have my mom and sister (and my dad and younger brother for the most part) be a part of this lifestyle change as well. My mom has cheered me on the whole time and my sister started eating gluten-free only a short time after I did, but having all of us eating Paleo has been a great support system. We encourage each other, share recipes and enjoy yummy meals and treats together.
In sticking with this, I’ve also discovered that there are initial benefits to a health lifestyle change, but others come more gradually. My sleep didn’t change overnight, but it’s much better now than it was. I still have an occasional rough night and I’m still sensitive to changes in my bedtime routine, but I deal with those situations better than before and bounce back from them much easier.
I’ve found even more enjoyment in living Paleo over the past couple of months as I’ve seen more health benefits and it’s truly become a way of life. It isn’t something I’m doing because I feel like I have to — I’m loving it! It’s a joy to live this way!
I’m eager to learn all I can about living Paleo and share my experience with others!
I’ve collected several Paleo cookbooks and I follow and read several great blogs for recipes and nutritional information. I really can’t get enough of it! Now that the essentials of living Paleo have become a way of life for me, I’m enjoying learning more advanced nutritional information about how what we eat impacts our bodies– even good, naturally grown fruits and vegetables — and how to use food for healing. I’m taking a weekly advanced nutrition class at Exodus Chiropractic for four weeks starting in January and I can’t wait!
My plan for 2013 is to push even more toward living a more natural, healthful lifestyle. I’m not exercising enough (really only on weekends), so one of my goals for the new year is to figure out a schedule that allows me to fit in an appropriate amount of good exercise (3-4 days a week instead of 1-2!). Many people who live Paleo style rave about the CrossFit exercise approach. I like the looks of it, but can’t afford to join one of the gyms. So I hope to start doing similar (or the same) exercises at home.
In the past week or so, I’ve also become more convinced that I need to start working toward a more natural body care routine. If I’m not putting a bunch of crap into my body — why am I putting it on it, where it can be absorbed? I’ve found some good resources and plan to experiment with some of them. That transition will be a slower one for me, but it’s one I’m now willing to begin.
This post is getting too long, so I’ll wrap it up. I’m just so eager to share this experience!
Living Paleo is a commitment. The food prep and planning takes time. And while it doesn’t have to be uber expensive, it certainly isn’t cheap. I’ve made sacrifices and adjustments to my budget in order to live this way and I can’t eat as organically as I wish. (There are some things I insist on eating organically like berries, apples and lettuce, which are eaten pretty much as is and also get treated with a lot of pesticides in their non-organic form. But some things aren’t a big deal. Bananas and pineapples, for example. We don’t eat the exteriors of those fruits and they’re thick, so I’m totally fine with skipping organic with them. I buy grass-fed/free-range meat when it’s on sale or I have the extra, but more often than not, I’m limited to buying lean meat that has no antibiotics or added hormones.)
But… it’s worth it!
If you want to life a more healthful lifestyle, I would encourage you to check into the Paleo diet, even if you don’t follow it 100 percent. Simply eating real food and cutting some of the crap like soft drinks and artificial sweeteners is a good start and will make a difference in your overall health.
Thank you for reading my ramblings about going Paleo! Since this is now a big part of my life, I’m sure I’ll share more of my Paleo experiments/discoveries/adventures in the future!
I got a food processor and four new Paleo cookbooks for Christmas! I can’t wait to start putting them all to use!